A FORMER Barnsley footballer is gearing up for his first tour of duty in Afghanistan after ditching sport for the armed forces.
Lee Crooks, aged 33, who played in defence and midfield for Barnsley FC between March 2001 and November 2004, has joined the elite team of the RAF Regiment as a gunner.
He made 73 first team appearances for the Reds after leaving Manchester City and has also played for Bradford and Rochdale.
Wakefield-born Crooks joined the RAF in 2009 and has now graduated to Leading Aircraftman.
He is due to move to embark on his first tour of Afghanistan at the beginning of next year.
The former England youth international said: “Both roles are about working as a team, being there for your team-mates and moving forward as a team.
“You have to be mentally and physically fit for both roles, but you train as a professional footballer for 90 minutes so the training is a lot more explosive.
“Being a gunner you have to be robust and have a lot more stamina as you are carrying heavy weight over longer distances and over longer days and nights.
“You train all week to prepare for the Saturday game and put everything that you’ve trained for into that game and it’s exactly the same as this.
“I have done my training and am now really looking forward to putting it into practice.”
Lee is undergoing training to prepare him for life on the frontline.
He is due to move to 1 Squadron RAF Regiment in Suffolk before beginning his tour of duty.